Hur­dles leg­end Alan Pas­coe looks back on a life­time in athletics


Athletics Weekly - - Contents -


WHEN SOME­ONE with the stature of Alan Pas­coe of­fers ad­vice – “Take chances as they come, work hard and make your own luck” – you would do well to take it.

One of the most in­flu­en­tial fig­ures in Bri­tish athletics – he’s twice put the sport back on a sound fi­nan­cial foot­ing when it had noth­ing – there are not many peo­ple who have worked harder to ben­e­fit the sport than Pas­coe and the for­mer hur­dler’s suc­cesses far tran­scend track and field.

But his athletics jour­ney is fas­ci­nat­ing and his route from “a coun­cil house kid who had quite se­vere child­hood asthma” to an Olympic, Euro­pean and Com­mon­wealth medal-win­ning ath­lete is proof of what can be achieved with the right mind­set, no lit­tle ef­fort and coach­ing sup­port.

It was athletics, too, which opened the doors to his busi­ness ca­reer.

“I’ve said it as I was sat at the ta­ble in many im­por­tant and in­flu­en­tial places and meet­ings all around the world, in­clud­ing Buck­ing­ham Palace – I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for athletics!” Pas­coe ex­plains. “And I wouldn’t have been in athletics at that level if it hadn’t have been for Doug.”

The ‘Doug’ in ques­tion is Dou­glas James, the fa­ther of Pas­coe’s wife Della and the man who coached them both to great suc­cess.

As I am wel­comed into the mag­nif­i­cent Thame­side home of the Pas­coes, which was once owned by Dave Gil­mour of Pink Floyd, Della re­flects on their early athletics days.

“Alan and I met at the run­ning track in Portsmouth. I had to slow down for him to catch me,” she smiles, rem­i­nisc­ing on 53 years ear­lier when she was 15 and Alan 17.

“When I look back now I think we couldn’t have been fit­ter,” she says, a re­sult of her fa­ther’s coach­ing. “He used to have us jump­ing over walls and in the sta­dium we’d go run­ning up the steps, jump­ing over the bar­ri­ers. It was very hard but we all used to do it all, and we were all re­ally fit. That was the ground rules of his train­ing – the fit­ness as­pect.”

So which qual­i­ties did James in­stil the most? “Dis­ci­pline, com­mit­ment, fo­cus and con­fi­dence,” replies Alan, and it is clear he has not re­stricted those char­ac­ter­is­tics to only his track ca­reer.

Af­ter claim­ing Euro­pean 110m hur­dles bronze in 1969 to go with his Euro­pean in­door gold from the win­ter be­fore, he went one bet­ter to se­cure 110m hur­dles sil­ver two years later be­fore win­ning dou­ble gold in the 400m hur­dles and 4x400m in Rome in 1974.

Ear­lier that year he had added Com­mon­wealth 400m hur­dles gold and re­lay sil­ver to his haul and fol­lowed that up with 400m hur­dles bronze four years later. His Olympic sil­ver – claimed along­side Mar­tin Reynolds, David He­mery and David Jenk­ins – came in Mu­nich in 1972. Alan

also won a to­tal of 13 AAA ti­tles, in­clud­ing dou­bles in the 110m hur­dles and 200m in both 1971 and 1972.

So what was his com­pet­i­tive ca­reer highlight?

“Ev­ery time I won,” he says. “Be­cause, for a long while, it was quite a sur­prise to me!

“I guess the real highlight would be win­ning the Euro­peans on the back of win­ning the Com­mon­wealths. We won the re­lay as well. It was just fun do­ing it. Com­pet­ing made up for all the grind on the train­ing track.

“I was never some­body that trained very well, es­pe­cially in win­ter. Hill work, high num­bers of reps and turnabouts were not my thing – I sup­pose the asthma her­itage ac­counted for most of that!”

Turn­ing to her hus­band, Della, who adds that her own highlight was equalling the Bri­tish 100m record as a 19-year-old in Mex­ico in 1968, says: “You were a com­peti­tor, that was your strength. You could over­come any­thing be­cause you were so strong men­tally.”

While Alan’s ca­reer would con­tinue through to 1978, two-time Olympian Della re­tired just four years af­ter her record­e­qualling run.

“I stopped run­ning in 1973 be­cause I didn’t make it on to the Com­mon­wealth Games team, de­spite fin­ish­ing in the top three in both sprints at the tri­als,” she ex­plains.

“Della also suf­fered from the fact that I had been team cap­tain and I was the ath­lete’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the Bri­tish Am­a­teur Ath­letic Board,” adds Alan. “I don’t think I was par­tic­u­larly out­spo­ken, I just said it like it was. I tried to rep­re­sent the ath­letes and im­prove their lot. The man­age­ment in those days was pretty poor to say the least and I was seen as a rebel or a trou­ble­maker by the pow­ers that be but I was an au­to­matic se­lec­tion, so they couldn’t get at me. It was Della that suf­fered! Un­for­tu­nately, that’s what we had to con­tend with in those days.”

While he was still com­pet­ing, Alan – who was also a teacher at Dul­wich Col­lege from 1971 to 1974 and a lec­turer at Bor­ough Road Col­lege in Isle­worth from 1974 to 1980 – be­came in­volved with broad­cast­ing and “un­wit­tingly” en­tered the world of spon­sor­ship, sports mar­ket­ing and man­ag­ing events.

A pi­o­neer of UK sports mar­ket­ing, he went on to cre­ate Alan Pas­coe As­so­ciates Ltd (APA), later named API, and Fast

Track, which be­came CSM Sport and En­ter­tain­ment and a divi­sion of Chime plc.

From 1984 to 2012, Alan led APA and then Fast Track to raise over £100 mil­lion for the sport and put on more than 200 tele­vised track and field events. He cre­ated new events, in­clud­ing The Na­tional Fun Run which was the pre­cur­sor to the Lon­don Marathon, and was also at the fore­front of the trans­for­ma­tion of in-sta­dium pre­sen­ta­tion.

Alan is now a Trustee of the Lon­don Marathon Char­i­ta­ble Trust and Non-Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of Lon­don Marathon Events Ltd, while he is also a Trustee of the ‘sport for de­vel­op­ment’ char­ity Sported.

Della was also heav­ily in­volved with char­ity work and has raised al­most £200,000 for the Princess Alice Hospice through events, in­clud­ing a se­ries of pop­u­lar gar­den par­ties, al­though her work has been curtailed some­what since she de­vel­oped Parkinson’s.

“We opened with a cof­fee morn­ing and we made £477 but I thought we could do bet­ter than that,” she says as Alan smiles and replies: “Not com­pet­i­tive, of course.”

Vice-chair­man of Lon­don’s suc­cess­ful 2012 Games bid, Alan also helped Glas­gow suc­cess­fully bid for the 2014 Com­mon­wealth Games and most re­cently led the panel to carry out a fea­si­bil­ity study for Birm­ing­ham’s Games bid.

When it comes to what Alan is most proud of in his busi­ness ca­reer, aside from be­ing a part of the 2012 win­ning bid, there is cer­tainly plenty to choose from.

“Mak­ing a dif­fer­ence to a lot of sports,” he de­cides. “In athletics, putting on those early events and build­ing on one or two ex­pe­ri­ences I had at events abroad, that we could put on far bet­ter events than the gov­ern­ing body was or­gan­is­ing.

“At one of the last White City events, I re­mem­ber the an­nouncer say­ing, ‘next in the long jump: L Davies of Cardiff’. Well he was Olympic cham­pion then. He was also my hero. So I was re­ally p ***** off. I didn’t have any back­ground in event man­age­ment then, but I knew that if you wanted to en­gage the fans and the peo­ple who paid their money to come in, they had to feel part of it: ‘Will you wel­come our Olympic cham­pion … the great Lynn Davies!’

“So trans­form­ing the event pre­sen­ta­tion of track and field world­wide, which I was prompted to do by the then head of sport at Chan­nel 4, Mike Miller. He said: ‘It’s not like watch­ing foot­ball, rugby or bas­ket­ball or vir­tu­ally any­thing else. There’s five or six things go­ing on all at the same time, I never know where to look at the right time.’

“Then we started ex­per­i­ment­ing with all sorts of pre­sen­ta­tion op­tions,” Alan con­tin­ues. “We up­set the tra­di­tion­al­ists be­cause we started play­ing mu­sic and did track-side in­ter­views. Ev­ery sport now does event pre­sen­ta­tion and have upped their game as a re­sult of what athletics led.”

Ul­ti­mately, Alan be­lieves the sport as a whole needs to progress and re­cent com­ments from IAAF pres­i­dent Seb Coe about ideas de­signed to shake athletics up sug­gests the pow­ers that be agree.

“It’s got to start with kids, you’ve got to wel­come them into our sport,” Alan says. “Un­less the na­tional schools cham­pi­onships and ev­ery­thing just above it and be­low it are thriv­ing, the sport is go­ing to strug­gle.”

He adds: “I’m re­ally con­cerned that the head­way the sport made in the 15 years up to the Olympics in Lon­don has largely been lost. With­out Mo (Farah) and Jess (En­nisHill) we have no in­di­vid­ual medal­lists – you have to have ‘names’ to bring the pay­ing pub­lic in, to in­spire the next gen­er­a­tions and to keep tele­vi­sion in­ter­ested. With less tele­vi­sion you have less spon­sor op­por­tu­nity, and there­fore less money com­ing into the sport.

“I know you can’t to­tally cre­ate these things but if I had been run­ning the sport and look­ing at what we need I would have made sure that we had a pro­gramme for de­cath­letes that matched the good for­tune that we’ve had in the hep­tathlon ever since Mary Peters.

“Why do you need de­cath­letes and hep­tath­letes? It’s four days of tele­vi­sion at the ma­jor cham­pi­onships and it’s the only time in athletics when you’ve got a nat­u­ral story. Tele­vi­sion is about big mo­ments but it’s also about sto­ry­telling and it’s about how you en­gage with view­ers.”

Alan him­self clearly has a way of en­gag­ing with an au­di­ence. Sadly, it’s time for me to leave the Pa­coes in peace, but not be­fore hear­ing one last bit of ad­vice.

“Over the years I’ve had lots of par­ents tell me, ‘my son/daugh­ter is at na­tional schools level (in var­i­ous sports) and wants to carry on but I want them to get their A-Lev­els and go to univer­sity and I don’t


think they can do both’,” says Alan. “I’d al­ways say, ‘let them fol­low their sport­ing dream, they will keep up or catch up their ed­u­ca­tion, but the ex­pe­ri­ence they gain through top-level sport will be of greater value than their A-Lev­els’.

“One of the things that I learned as an em­ployer was that there are plenty of peo­ple that got 2:1s or Firsts who wanted to work with us, but the ones you are look­ing for usu­ally have a dif­fer­ent qual­ity – per­son­al­ity. Of­ten, I took peo­ple that had been to art or drama school, or had reached the top level in sport – even if they didn’t have a 2:1! It was their un­der­stand­ing, fo­cus, com­mit­ment and drive that counts.

“That’s why so many sports peo­ple do so well out there in the busi­ness world – be­cause they’ve got the fo­cus, they’ve got the ded­i­ca­tion but they’ve also got the ex­pe­ri­ence and the con­fi­dence be­cause they’ve trav­elled the world and they’ve met so many sig­nif­i­cant peo­ple.

“I guess that per­son­i­fies what hap­pened to me, and I will be for­ever grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity athletics gave me.”

Alan Pas­coe: says com­pet­ing made up for the grind of train­ing

Della and Alan Pas­coe at

their Thame­side home

Crys­tal Palace, sum­mer 1968 (left to right): Janet Simp­son, Della James (now Pas­coe), Anita Neil, Val Peat

Alan Pas­coe and Seb Coe: both have ideas on fur­ther ad­vanc­ing the sport of athletics

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